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Ask and you may receive: Julianna Pena’s boldness earns her dubious title shot

After news broke that two-weight champion Amanda Nunes would be defending her 135-lb belt against #6 ranked women’s bantamweight Julianna Pena at UFC 265 on August 7 yesterday, it again reinforced the unwritten rule that some momentum, mixed with trash talk and geniune heat can be utilised to skip the traditional queue under the guise of a fresh divisional matchup.

time to finally deliver: Pena propelled into big title spot

Will Pena snap Nunes’ seven-year run and have her hand raised this summer, like she did in January?

As much as the weekly updated rankings give fans and writers a visual representation showing the UFC’s meritocracy is watertight: instances like these Nunes-Pena bout suggest otherwise.

Some exceptions can be made, though Nunes is the female embodiment of a bogeyman – one brief scan of social media after making quick work of Megan Anderson last month says it all.

Nunes poses with her team after easing past Anderson at UFC 259 last month

The promotion’s featherweight division appears to be hanging by a thread, even with another of Nunes’ defeated opponents Felicia Spencer facing newcomer Danyelle Wolf (1-0) on May 22.

At the time, I wrote this on the aforementioned title defence last summer:

“50-44, 50-44, 50-45.

Perhaps the most telling moment from these five rounds was Nunes’ apologetic look of remorse, landing a spinning backfist before the R3 horn.

She knew, as well as anyone watching did, that by varying her strikes and stalking her prey inside a smaller Octagon, she was delaying the inevitable.”

She wasted no time and finished her night’s work after 123 seconds – the Brazilian’s fastest win since blasting Cris Cyborg out of California inside a minute at UFC 232 in December 2018.

Since ending Miesha Tate’s brief bantamweight title run at UFC 200 five years ago, Nunes has made eight successful championship appearances in the Octagon without fault – five 135-lb defences and two more at 145lbs after dethroning Cyborg in style. This is set to be number six.

Making the case for Shevchenko, de Randamie trilogies

Shevchenko (right) came closest to dethroning Nunes, losing via split decision in September 2017

While you can make a case that she was only truly tested against Valentina Shevchenko and Germaine de Randamie, both of whom present tougher challenges than The Venezuelan Vixen, neither are compelled to trash talk their way into title contention.

Shevchenko is a formidable champion in her own right at 125lbs with four title defences already – a fantastic fifth is in the offing against Nunes’ compatriot Jessica Andrade later this month.

Just like Shevchenko, de Randamie’s only two UFC defeats (2016, 2017) have been by Nunes and a trilogy – despite being 2-0 down – remains a possibility both are prepared for down the line.

If GDR felt disrespected by the UFC last year, that feeling will only have intensified after hearing the news break of Nunes’ next opponent.

Six months after earning the first submission win of her career with a guillotine choke against Pena, the younger and fresher matchup has leapfrogged her (and others) to a shot at gold.

Bantamweight rankings, as it stands
#1 Germaine de Randamie – lost twice, overlooked
#2 Holly Holm – undisclosed injury, Pena fight scratched
#3 Aspen Ladd – Booked to return vs. Macy Chiasson on July 24
#4 Irene Aldana – coming off a loss, foot surgery
#5 Yana Kunitskaya – available
#6 Julianna Pena – Nunes next, August 7

Fighting talk too good a storyline to ignore

After a third-round submission win over Sara McMann at UFC 257, she called for Nunes next. The same happened after Amanda’s easy win over Anderson, challenging the champion on Twitter.

As quoted by an interview with MMAJunkie last month, she said:

“I’m 9-2 in the UFC, she has one more victory than I do. I’ve been fighting in this division just as long as she has, I feel like stylistically, I’m the worst possible matchup – her kryptonite.

I do believe she knows that because every time I fight, she always says ‘one more, and you’ve got to fight one more. Felicia Spencer, Megan Anderson, Holly didn’t have to but for some reason, I’ve got to fight one more.”

For all of her fighting talk, Pena has lost both times she stepped up in competition – coincidentally against Shevchenko (2017) and last year. Can she back up those words?

Picture source: Getty Images


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